Pig scrambles have been a fixture at the Dundas Plowing Match and Agricultural Fair for more than a decade.
Following the cancellation of other pig scrambles in the Maritimes, the fair and the province are now talking about its future.
What is a scramble?
A pig scramble involves kids — in the case of the Dundas Plowing Match, up to age eight — in a pen with pigs.
The children try to corral the pigs. At some fairs, that means chasing and grabbing the pigs, but organizers of the Dundas Plowing Match said their scramble involves no hands-on contact. The kids use plastic bags to try to guide the pigs.
"There's no hands on, or pushing, or kicking of the pigs, or anything like that," said Gordon Jackson, co-president of the Dundas Plowing Match. "The kids are just walking behind them and in front of them."
Jackson said the scramble is a popular event, and he has never heard any complaints.
Last month, two other pig scrambles in the Maritimes were canceled.
Organizers of the Westmorland County Fair in Petitcodiac, N.B., said the decision to cancel was made because of complaints from animal rights activists.
The Nova Scotia Provincial Exhibition in Truro also canceled its scramble. Organizers of that event said the decision had nothing to do with complaints. However, there had also been an online petition calling for that scramble to be cancelled.
Jackson said he isn't sure what to think about those cancellations, since he doesn't know the details of how those scrambles were run. But he said at the Dundas scramble — and the agricultural fair as a whole — the well-being of the animals is the top concern.
"I don't see anything bad with what we're doing at all," said Jackson.
Local farmer opposed
P.E.I. pig farmer Ranald MacFarlane said he doesn't support pig scrambles, and he was surprised to hear they still exist on the Island.
He said he took part as a kid, but that times have changed and he doesn't see a place for them anymore.
"To take pigs out of their element, to transport them in a trailer and traumatize them and put them in a rink or a pen or whatever and turn a bunch of crazy kids loose on them. No, I don't agree with that," said MacFarlane.
MacFarlane said he has no problem with kids and pigs interacting, but he said that should happen in the pig's own environment, and they shouldn't be subjected to being transported if it's not necessary.
The future of the scramble
Jackson said the Dundas Plowing Match has no current plans to cancel its scramble. However, he said given recent media attention, the board will discuss the topic at its monthly meeting next week.
"It's a smaller part of our fair, but we don't want it to become a big issue, and you know, perhaps hurt the fair —the whole fair — down the road," said Jackson.
The province said it also spoke with Jackson on Friday, and the two groups are planning to have a conversation about the scramble as the organizing committee prepares for this year's fair.
The province said it wants to ensure that there are no violations of the Animal Health and Protection Act.
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